Tasmania

Tasmania 077Happy new year everyone,

We hope you had a wonderful time during the holidays and that you had the opportunity to spend time with your beloved ones and also that you had time to relax.

I have began a post in November with couple of news in our life but I haven’t continued it since then. I promise to get back to it soon now that some things are settling down and there is more clarity. There is also my fifth Annual Review that is upcoming.

I want to dedicate this post to the recent trip in Tasmania that we just got back last Friday as it is still fresh in memory and I will be better able to relate to it. We have heard a lot of good things about Tasmania and because we love nature and that it is one of the remaining Australian unexplored area for us and flights during the holidays weren’t too expensive, we decided it was a good opportunity to go. Our plan was to do the whole tour of Tasmania by car while camping and exploring the most interesting area by hiking, walking, cruising and tasting (lot of local product in Tasmania!).

For a bit of background, Tasmania (known as Tassie for Australians) is that big island located 240km south of Australian continent toward Antarctica. Tasmania is considered relatively as an unspoiled natural environment where almost 45% of Tasmania lies in reserves, national parks and World Heritage Sites. Tasmania isn’t much populated. There are about half a million people living on the Island, with around 200 000 living in the Capital Hobart and about 100 000 in Launceston, next is Devonport with about 25 000. Early settlers were mostly British convicts and their military guards, with the task of developing agriculture and other industries in the early 18th century. Many historical building remains of that era. Main industries are mining, agriculture, forestry, and tourism. Tasmania has a cool temperate climate with four distinct seasons with an average maximum of around 24 Celsius in summer (Dec-Feb) in Hobart and Launceston.

Hobart – December 24-25th

Provided you have booked couple of months in advance, Christmas eve or Christmas day are usually the most affordable time to travel during the holidays, otherwise it is somehow prohibitive. So, we flew to Hobart on December 24th in the morning through Melbourne (BNE-MEL-HBA). First flight with Qantas was great, the next one with JetStar was not. We couldn’t check-in our luggage straight to Hobart to we needed to pick our luggage in Melbourne and re do another check-in. It was extremely chaotic, no display board anywhere for information with JetStar only staff yelling in every direction and a huge line up, to the contrary of all other airlines. We finally checked in and and we arrived in the late evening an hour after departure.

We picked our car rental and went straight to check-in at our apartment hotel for the 1st night (St Ives Apartment) near Battery point. Hotel was good and very close by the interesting features of Hobart. We went straight for groceries for the next couples of days of camping as everything was closed on the 25th. Afterward we walked downtown to Battery Point and Salamanca to check out the port and for dinner. First thing we loved about Tasmania in summer are the long days. The sun only goes down around 9pm which is great as compare to Brisbane where everything is dark at 7pm (so not much after work life…).We also enjoyed the historic character of Hobart with the old building that reminded me of Quebec city (without the people and the vibe).

We had dinner at the Custom House Hotel where I had the best steak ever. A Wallaby steak (Kangaroo little cousin).

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The next day, we went exploring more of the city on foot. We joined a christmas lunch at the mall organised by few organisations after an invitation by one of the organiser. It was nice. After this, we took the car and drove up Mount Wellington near the city for a really nice view of Hobart. Unfortunately, the top of the mountain was sitting in the clouds so we couldn’t get a clear view. There are different walking trail possibles but we didn’t had the time to do it that day.

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We then drove to our camping spot for the night at Barilla Holiday Park not too far away from Hobart. We sat the tent up and there was a mini put available so we played a game before the office closed. Gabriela beat me up pretty badly with one awkward lucky hole in one shot over the rocks. We then went in Richmond closeby to check out some historic features of this little town. One iconic picture of this place is the oldest Bridge in Tasmania. It is Australia’s oldest bridge still in use.

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Port Arthur and the Tasman Peninsula – December 26th

We left the camping early and drove toward Port Arthur an hour away. We stopped at the following places/landmark Eaglehawk Neck lookout, Dootown (small town with funny house name), Tasman Blowhole, Tasman Arch, Devil’s Kitchen and Remarkable Caves.

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We then visited Port Arthur Historic site, which is an old British convict colony that was destroyed in the early 19th century by big bush fires. It is today a really interesting historic and tourism spot. We quite enjoyed it.

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In the afternoon, we went for a Cruise in the Tasman Peninsula exploring the rugged coast. It was really windy and the sea was quite choppy but the cruise boat was great and I didn’t feel thing. The tour was awesome, the guide was really good and the coastline was impressive. We saw tons of dolphins, seals, albatross in actions. Loved the experience.

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We camped at Port Arthur Holiday Park. The site was really good too.

Maria Island – December 27th

We left very early Port Arthur to drive up to Triabunna to catch the ferry to Maria Island.

Once disembarked we took the path leading to the Mount Maria hiking trail traversing a small and nice village that seems now to be unoccupied unless for tourists. We hike  the difficult track 15km ~5-6 hours (a.k.a the Hobbit track) up to Mount Maria. We called it the Hobbit track because it didn’t seem much in use and sometimes the bush was so dense we had to pass directly straight in the bush or underneath low branches. We saw an Echidnea on the way up and a snake, officially my first wild one after 4 years. We left it pass safely and continued our way up the track to a point where we needed to scramble big rocks for half a hour to the top (a little above 700 meters).  Interesting but difficult hike. On the way down we saw a wombat and a several big birds that we couldn’t really identify.

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We were a little rushed to catch the ferry back but we managed to stop at the 100 metre stretch of cliff named the Painted Cliff. Nature took millions of years to get these beautiful paintings. The erosion of cliff by the salt water led to the formation of these designs.

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Thereafter we drove to Rock and River free camp site in Coles Bay near Freycinet National Park. The camp site was relatively good however is was quite busy and noisy. It was such a intense day and we were really tired so it didn’t take long before we felt asleep anyway.

Freycinet National Park – December 28th

We clear the camp site early and drove toward Coles Bay little town to have a picnic breakfast near the bay with an open view on the park. Then we stop by the park visitor center to inquiry on camping sites available. Because it is the peak season, none were available but we could book a camping spot in Bicheno some 30-40min away from the park. Given the sun goes down so late (hurray!), this was not an issue at all.

Tasmania 056We started off the Wineglass bay trail and planned to return via Hazard Beach, which give a total of around 11-12km 4.5h hike. The trail was categorised by Australian standard as medium hard but honestly it was really easy. Perhaps because of the large number of people visiting the park. The park is one of the top highlight of Tasmania.

We stopped at Wineglass bay lookout for an breathtaking view on the bay and then descendent toward the Wineglass bay beach, supposedly one of the top beach in Australia. I can’t say I disagree but I prefer slightly Whitsundays and Thistle Cove in Western Australia. We relaxed and then walk along the entire length of the beach and I went for a swim in the cold Tasmanian waters.

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We walked back to our starting point via Hazard Beach. The walk was really enjoyable and less tiring the the hike on Maria Island, however Gabby had few blisters from the previous day that we a bit painful. A nice Australian hiker stopped by seeing this with his full health & safety equipment in hands, he patched it up nicely using a piece of camping foam mattress so that there would be not friction with the shoes. That solved the problem nicely and we continued our way on the pink granite trail overlooking Coles Bay. On the way back we came across a number of animals again including another snake that Gabby saw. A black one.

We drove to Bicheno and stopped on the way to the holiday park for supplies. We had trouble setting up the tent that evening as the wind was blowing were strongly (~40km). One of my tent pole broke.We decided to pack up the tent back in the camp in despair and went cooking dinner in hope the wind would somehow quiet down. Luckily after dinner it was not as aggressive and we parked the car in a way to block the wind for the tent. It worked quite well as we slept reasonably good.

Bay of fires – December 29th

We took our time to get ready in the morning as the facilities where busy. The wind was blowing once again and the forecast were not really good for the day (increasing wind to 50km and showers with little chance of thuderstorm. Provided the plan for our next night would be to camp near the beach, we gave ourselves a second though on the idea of perhaps booking an however for the night. However, by looking online there wasn’t much option available in the small town near Bay of Fires except some luxurious cottage that were out of price and only available when booking several nights. We though in last resort we could sleep in the car but having done this few times, we known it is uncomfortable, unless you have a proper car/wan for this, not a Nissan Pulsar (our rental) and provided you rented it month in advance!

We visited Bicheno blow hole and Whaler’s lookout in the morning after packing our gear.  The blow hole was much stronger than the other one visited in the Tasman Peninsula and we could start to see rocks with the red lichen that make Tasmania coastal landscape attractive.

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After this we drove to St-Helens close enough to Binalong Bay (Bay of Fires) in search for accommodation.  Most places were unfortunately fully booked but we managed to get one room at Tidal Waters Ressort. It wasn’t cheap but it was certainly better than a night in the car!

We then visited Binalong Bay in the beautiful Bay of Fires. We spend some time there just walking along the beautiful beach. The weather wasn’t that good, the waves were big and the current was strong, so I didn’t bother for a swim and stick to my camera instead. We completed the day tour by driving to The Gardens, another beautiful spot overlooking Bay of Fires.

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Launceston – December 30th

A long drive to Launceston was ahead of us that day with few interesting stop along the way. Along the very curvy and narrow road, we first stop at Holy Cow Café at Pyengana Diary Farm to try some good renowned cheese and stop for a coffee.

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Then we continued our way to St-Columba Falls and walked for about 20 minute through the very nice fern-lined gullies and rain forest until we reach Tasmania’s highest waterfall.

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The next stop in line was the Bridestowe Lavender Farm near Scottsdale. I was not deceived at all to stop there it was amazingly beautiful. The purple landscape was mixing well with the blue sky and the mountains behind. We had lunch there and tried few lavender made dishes including ice-cream. A must do stop.

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Tasmania 091After this we drove to our accommodation for the night to leave our bags and explore Launceston, Tasmania’s second largest city with around 100 000 people. We visited the huge Cataract George from there. This George was leading to a park and lagoon inside where people where spending family time. Peacocks and wallabies were freely walking all over the place. We decided to continue walking in the trails to Sentinel Lookout and then further to an abandoned power station. We ended walking there for several hours. Really enjoyable, not to miss if you are in Launceston as the town itself didn’t had much else to see really except some old buildings like the place we stayed at.

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We stayed at Leisure Inn Penny Royal Hotel & Apartments just next door to the Cataract George. The place was really nice and because we had to get closer to Cradle Mountain and do camping the following day I wanted something nice for the night to celebrate the upcoming new year. We went for fine dinning at Stillwater that night.

Tamar Valley Wine Tour – December 31th

This last day of 2014 was dedicated to fine product and wine tasting around the Tamar Valley of Tasmania. The first stop was to check out George Town and Low Head to the north. Similarly to Philip Island near Melbourne, Penguins, but this can only be checked at sun set but we needed to be close to Cradle Mountains for the stay so we only stopped for lunch.

Tasmania 117 Tasmania 118 Tasmania 119Then we stopped at the following vineyard : Goaty Hills, Tamar Valley Ridge and Stone rise. We stopped at few others but they were closed for the day. Wines were good especially the smokey Chardonnay we have bought at Goaty Hills. We though the wines in general were good but very dry.

Tasmania 120We slowly made our way in direction to Cradle Mountain to Lake Gairdner where I had spotted a nice free camp site online. We wanted to stop on the way to Railton to try the Seven Shed microbrewery but the manager was closing the gate (5:30pm) so we continued our way to Sheffield to check our the little town with murals. We though they have made a good job making this very small town attractive.

Tasmania 123 Tasmania 122 Tasmania 121 We drove by a really nice park at O’Neill Creeks and we decided to camp there for the night. The camping spot was provided by the local council and was only 5$ that you pay in a honesty box. We were by ourselves in a great place with a stack a wood provided and a fire place. Couldn’t ask for more really. Gabby wasn’t feeling good that night so she slept early but I stayed up until midnight with few beers and a fire. The sky was completely clear, there was no wind at all but the night was cold. Fortunately, we were well prepared.

Tasmania 125 Tasmania 127 Tasmania 128Cradle Mountains  – January 1st

We only had the time to clear the camp that it started raining. We made our way to the park entry at Cradle Mountain. It was raining a lot, it was cold, the wind was blowing strong and Gabby wasn’t feeling very good still. We were undecided on what to do but considering this is the top highlight in Tasmania we decided to do a first walk around Dove Lake for 2h and see how this turn out as the weather forecast were predicting that the showers would be less likely by mid day. We could always come back but there wasn’t much else to do in the area and we have booked the night at the camping site 2 min from the gate, where we were already.

In fact, the rain and the clouds were giving a special and mysterious atmosphere to the place, which we liked. We completed the beautiful and easy walk around dove lake. With our warm clothes and the rain jacket, it was still enjoyable at the end.

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Then we headed to the Lake Lila, the Wombat pool and the Wombat summit. We didn’t see any wombat there but only a crow who almost took our snack from our hands. Shaken but this attempt of burglary we continued our way to Marion lookout. By that time, the weather has changed slightly in our favor so we were alternating between taking on/off our rain jackets. The view from Marion lookout was stunning. This landscape was somewhat foreign to what we are used to in Australia.

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After the lookout, we took the Overland track back in the way of the parking at Dove Lake. By that time, the sky was getting clear and the sun was shinning. The track was beautiful and we passed by few puffy wombats on the way back, which Gabby enjoyed very much,as you can see below:

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Arrived at the parking, we decided we didn’t had enough. We couldn’t could back and do the Cradle summit at that time but we took the 6km boardwalk back to the visitor center. We walked that day for over 8 hours, our feet were tired but it was rewarding. Our highlight in Tasmania.

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We sat the tent back at the camp site and slept well. It was cold though, even for the peak of the summer. Temperature probably reached 4 or 5 Celsius.

Tasmania 155Back to Hobart, Brisbane  – January 2nd

We took our time in the morning as nothing was really planned for the day except driving back to Hobart and flying back to Brisbane in the evening. We decided to take the long drive back to Hobart by the West (5.5hours) thinking at least we can say we did the tour of Tasmania. The weather was great and the drive was really nice in fact with beautiful mountains, forests and farm land.

We arrived in Hobart just in time for our flight! Lesson learnt: You should always plan more time because the road is sketchy but also allow more time because Tasmanian drivers drive on average 30km UNDER the limit so not only they are very slow drivers (with reason sometimes) but it is also very difficult to pass anyone on the narrow and curvy road!

Once more, we were flying with JetStar and the experience has been really good. First, check in was horrific with a huge line up and improvised check in services, second the flight was delayed by more than an hour and third they couldn’t make our registration until Brisbane. We had to pick our luggage in Melbourne to re-check in again at the counter with the same company. Because they were so late, we rushed like madness to pick our bags, walk to the other end of the terminal to re-check in our same bags and than walk back to the JetStar departure gate. It is completely absurd but as JetStar staff mentioned to me when I complained about this:

“Jetstar is a LOW VALUE company.”

Not sure this was intended but I could agree more with this!!

Nevertheless, we arrived in Brisbane and made our way safely back home using Uber services! Almost half price from a taxi and we were driven in an Alfa Romeo with a bottle of water and some mentos for each. Quite good! The JetStar frustration was gone and our mind was filled with good memories of the trip we just completed!

Tasmania, thank you very much,

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